Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
Koestler, Arthur 1905–
Koestler, a Hungarian-born British novelist and essayist, has been called "a brilliant dealer in ideas and a masterful dialectitian." He has said that all of his novels deal with "the problem of Ends and Means": "whether, or to what extent, and in what circumstances, a noble end justifies the use of ignoble means." Koestler's abiding concern with the "two cultures" found its most impressive expression in The Act of Creation, the extraordinary book which was called "the most ambitious work in the life sciences since Darwin's epochal Origin of Species." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
I have always been inclined to attribute to Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon an almost unique significance among the literary works of our time; not only because it has done more than any other novel to determine people's attitudes to contemporary history but because in a strange way the book has developed a life of its own which at moments seems to become quite independent of its author's intentions. Koestler's object was to expose the reality which lay behind the façade of the great Russian state trials of the 1930s, and he did it so effectively that to thousands, even millions, of people communism, and the communist party, stripped of at least one layer of illusion, have never looked the same again. (p. 47)
R, in Encounter (© 1970 by Encounter Ltd.), January, 1970.
Arthur Koestler is a brilliantly clever man, and [The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968–1973, a] collection of essays, lectures and reviews is compulsively readable. Among the matters upon which he expresses opinions are the human Predicament, education, contemporary art, the reductionist concept of life, psycholinguistics, national differences in psychiatric diagnosis, the mediocracy that is apparently to be our future ruling class, the "biological timebomb" and the shortcomings of those simpler-minded forms of zoologism which see us as naked apes or as animals compelled to make war for sexual territories.
The main piece and that which colours the whole book, is 'The Urge to Self-destruction'. Koestler believes that something has gone wrong in human evolution and that some terrible evolutionary misadventure has made it possible for human beings to indulge in the behavioural enormity of killing members of their own species.
"The crisis of our time," he says, "can be summed up in a single sentence"—in effect, that since Hiroshima mankind has had to live with the prospect of its extinction as a biological species. It is as if, he says, the first atomic bombs had produced a kind of psychoactive fall-out, creating "such bizarre phenomena" as hippies, drop-outs, flower people and barefoot crusaders without a cross. I think it intolerably glib to interpret the origins of such people as if they were sociological mutants analogous to genetic mutants. The figure of speech is a brilliant—an excellent example of the aberration of thought I have described as "poetism." Its danger is to create an illusion of serious explanatory significance which is not wholly dispelled by an excusatory "it is as if…."
Peter Medawar, "Getting it Right and Wrong," in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), April 27, 1974, p. 515.
Mr. Koestler is a learned and witty man who seems to enjoy writing about almost everything. In one book after another—novels, autobiographical volumes, and an endless succession of essay collections—he has labored to introduce what he takes to be a sane perspective upon the vital issues of the day. Readers who have made an effort to keep up with him in the course of thirty years or more will know that his enduring interests have been politics and the biological sciences, and that he has tended to elaborate those interests as part of a broader concern with the issue of orthodoxy. (p. 25)
Robert Boyers, "Sanity and Limitation," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1975 by The New Republic, Inc.), February 1, 1975, pp. 25-7.
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